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Re: [urb-eco] washingtonpost.com: Out of the Driver's Seat

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  • Joel Hirschhorn
    Maybe all those who believe in the right of Americans to choose not to have a car should email this article to Wendell Cox the nation s leading pro-sprawl,
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 18 12:45 PM
      Maybe all those who believe in the right of Americans to choose not to have a car should email this article to Wendell Cox the nation's leading pro-sprawl, pro-car extremist; see my article "Wendell Cox is Nuts" at www.sprawlkills.com the newsletter page

      Richard Risemberg <rickrise@...> wrote:

      Richard Risemberg

      "I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity,
      an obligation; every possession, a duty."
      John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

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      Out of the Driver's Seat
      Arlington Residents Increasingly Choose to Shift Into a Carless Lifestyle
      By Chris L. Jenkins
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Monday, November 17, 2003; Page B01

      Jennifer Clark never thought she would find herself without a set of car keys tucked in her purse or her mechanic's phone number taped to her refrigerator door. Like most suburban Americans, she anchored much of her daily routine behind a steering wheel: shooting to the grocery store several miles away, heading to a social event through gridlock across town, driving hours a day getting to work, school and back home.

      Then she moved to Arlington. Out went the car keys.

      "I just figured, why bother?" said Clark, 53, a three-year resident of Rosslyn, one of the county's several mini-metropolises that have sprung up around Metro stations over the past 20 years. "I can pretty much do everything I need without a car, so I figured I didn't really need one when I moved here."

      Clark is one of a steadily growing number of Arlingtonians who are living without the automobile. In the Washington suburbs, where the car is king and a hefty chunk of households have several of them, Arlington stands apart. According to the 2000 Census, more than 12 percent of county households are without even one vehicle, the highest rate in the region among major jurisdictions outside the District of Columbia.

      In the county's increasingly urban Metro corridors, the proportion is even higher -- approaching 1 in 5, according to a study to be published next month in the book "The New Transit Town," a broader look at similar communities that, like Arlington, have focused much of their development along transportation corridors.

      In Maryland, smaller communities such as Takoma Park and Silver Spring, also on Metro lines, have high proportions of carless households, as well: 16.2 percent in Takoma Park and 15.5 percent in Silver Spring.

      But in the surrounding suburbs, households without a car are a rarity. In Fairfax County, 4 percent are without cars. In Montgomery County, that figure is 7 percent, and in Prince William County, it's 3.5 percent.

      In Arlington, "we have long wanted to give our residents . . . choices," said County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D), who also serves on the Metro Board of Directors. He added that even outside the Metro corridors, the county's rate of households without cars is higher than that of other close-in suburbs. "I think we're just getting started in trying to figure out how far we can go with some of these initiatives we've started," he said.

      Although some Arlingtonians don't have cars because they can't afford them or don't have driver's licenses, county officials estimate that most in the relatively affluent county have made a conscious decision to forego the automobile. Comprising both newcomers and long-term residents, they use public transportation, which, many of them say, is not only economical but also environmentally friendly.

      "I wouldn't have moved to Arlington if I thought I would have needed a car," said Lynda Frost, 35, a project manager for a D.C. nonprofit group. A native of Iowa, she grew up in a car culture, she said. But when she moved to the District several years ago, she decided to try something different. Her carless lifestyle has even rubbed off on family members: Her sister Laura, who moved to Arlington from Phoenix, has followed her lead.

      Frost said that although she understands the argument that the automobile is convenient, she has no problem doing without one. A grocery store is only four blocks away, and a drugstore is around the corner from her two-bedroom house off Fairfax Drive. Getting to work is simple: She hops onto Metro's Orange Line, and she's there in 20 minutes. Another benefit is not having to deal with the hassles and cost of periodic maintenance, parking, car payments and insurance. She admits, however, that "Being single and not having kids makes it easier."

      Indeed, Arlington's healthy proportion of households without cars is fueled in part by number of singles who live in the county of 193,000, particularly in neighborhoods that cater to that population, like Ballston and Clarendon. Like its sister jurisdiction Alexandria, the county has a high proportion of households made up of singles: 40 percent, according to the 2000 Census. That's a higher proportion than every other jurisdiction in the area except for the District.

      But not everyone without a car is single. "I'm one of those who thought [living with no auto] would be impossible," said David Westerman, 34, a computer consultant who lives in Crystal City and works in Bethesda.

      Married without children, he and his wife, Lauren, said that renting a car once a month to do heavy grocery shopping is more cost-effective than car payments, as is taking an occasional cab from Pentagon City to bring home larger items.

      Some say that once they establish a routine, life without a car can be less hectic.

      Clark has worked out a routine of either walking or taking the Metro to the supermarket and wheeling her groceries home in a collapsible shopping cart or hauling them in her backpack. To go further afield, she's memorized the bus schedules. She even ventures to Bethesda by Metro to do some of her shopping when there's a special to be snagged.

      On a recent day, however, on the way back from Giant, she signed up for one of the region's newest conveniences for the carless: Flexcar, which provides cars to rent at or near Metro stations.

      Now she can take Metro to a station near where she wants to shop and for $8 an hour rent a car and drive to a shopping center. She can then throw her purchases into the car and drive it back to Arlington, where she can turn it in at a Flexcar outlet near her house. The cars are especially handy when it's time to buy a bulky item like a television, she said, or when she has to go to a social event in a far suburb.

      "I think it's fair to say that besides the District, there's no other place I could pull this off," she said. "It's not so much of a crusade. . . . It's just something that works for my lifestyle."

      To be sure, such a decision is easier to make in Arlington than in other places across the region. With 11 Metro stops, many close to one another, the county has deliberately tried to make parts of its community friendly to pedestrians.

      Local officials continue to set policy that encourages residents to do without cars. For instance, Arlington will reimburse residents for the $25 annual membership fee that Flexcar and Zipcar, another such service, require. In nearly a dozen site plans approved this year, developers have been encouraged to reduce condominium sales prices or rent to residents who won't need a parking space, a county official said. And the county manager is set to embark on a $250,000 program that subsidizes Metro fares for residents of an apartment complex near Clarendon if they don't have cars or limit auto ownership to one vehicle.

      "We've had a lot of success with Arlington," said Tim Vogel, general manager of Flexcar's D.C. offices. He said that there are 500 members in the county -- twice the number it had last year. He expects another doubling when he increases the number of cars in the county from 7 to about 15 next year. Zipcar officials said the company has 400 Arlington members and five cars.

      "It's been one of the best places to work with, because it's obvious they really want this concept to work," Vogel said.

      County officials say they'll never have the proportion of carless households of a New York or Washington, cities that are immersed in a transit culture. They also point out that as young singles marry and have children, it's inevitable that they'll become car owners.

      And some Arlingtonians say the effort to increase the numbers of carless households has gone too far. They point out that although some people can take advantage of living near public transportation, the more leafy suburban parts of the county will remain what they are: car dependent.

      "I'm not sold on a lot of what the county's trying to do, and I don't believe their approach is realistic," said Ed Parks, president of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association. "I think we need to focus on making sure that we have adequate parking for the cars we do have and not worry so much about trying to get more people out of [cars]."

      But for those who have sworn off the automobile, Arlington appears to be a good place to call home.

      "Having the option not to take your car is what I think is most convenient," Westerman said. "Who knows? Maybe we'll get a car down the line. But it's sure nice not to be pressured into it."

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